WILMINGTON – Judging the Maple Leafs solely on their performances against the Bruins would lead just about everyone with an ounce of sanity to believe they’re right where they’ve always been since the lockout.
Toronto has been given multiple beat-downs by the B’s this season, falling 6-2 in Boston in October before dropping their previous matchup at Air Canada Centre by an eye-popping final score of 7-0. However, these aren’t the Leafs of yesteryear.
Toronto appears poised to qualify for the postseason for the first time since 2004 and, despite Boston’s magnificent roll, remain neck-and-neck with the Black and Gold for first in the Northeast.
“It seems like we’re kind of flip-flopping back and forth for first place in the division,” Bruins center Greg Campbell said. “They’ve done a great job in Toronto. They’ve built a young team. I don’t think it’s a team where they’re going to fade. They’re going to be competing with us all year. It’s a team we have to take seriously.”
The two divisional foes will partake in a home-and-home series that begins on Wednesday in Toronto and resumes on Saturday at TD Garden.
“I think all you can do is focus on the first game,” said Campbell. “We’ve done well against them thus far this season. Whether that’s motivation for them or not, it’s certainly going to be another hard one for us. We have to go in there and play good hockey. Wins will come if we play well.”
Part of Boston’s success in this season and in previous ones against Toronto has been their ability to completely neutralize former Bruin Phil Kessel.
The 24-year-old winger enters the game with the league lead in goals (16) and points (31), but has been blanked in each of his team’s two matchups with the B’s.
“I’ve killed a lot of penalties against him and he’s just dangerous,” said Campbell. “Those skilled players make things happen quickly and make things happen out of nothing. He’s got deceiving speed as well so you have to key on him.”
Bank on Campbell and the Bruins keeping a close eye on Kessel, who as of Tuesday led all players in votes for the NHL All Star Game.
“I know our guys are used to playing against top lines and we usually do a pretty good job, but you have to give him respect,” Campbell said. “He’s a good player and he’s having a good season.”
Toronto comes into the tilt as winners of three-straight contests, while Boston will look to extend their point streak to 13 games.
“Our challenge – and I think we’ve done a great job – is keeping that high level we expect from ourselves,” said Campbell. “Unfortunately we had the start that we did, but this group has been through a lot and there’s a lot of character. We ironed some things out and we’re playing better hockey now.
“It’s up to us to continue to play strong hockey. Whether the wins continue or not, that remains to be seen but it’s just a matter of us playing the best we can.”